Women in Ministry

With regard to what can be the vexed issue of the place of women in ministry, and then, more generally, as to the place of women in the Bible and so in society, it is good to be able to recommend the following resources:

I suffer not the Woman by R. Kroeger and C. Kroeger
God’s Word to Women by Katharine Bushnell
The Woman Question by Kenneth E Hagin
Creation Realities, a series of recordings by Daisy Osborn, and, more generally, her books and teaching material together with TL Osborn.

The issues here may seem less apparent these days but are still very real.

Many Christian churches would still say, on the basis of 1 Tim 2, that women should not teach. My first pastor, who was a man of God, said it grieved him to have to say it, but women must not teach – the Bible says so. This troubled me in two ways. Firstly, it was ok for women to teach the children in Sunday School, and it didn’t seem right to me that children should be regarded as not part of the church – I learned subsequently that the prohibition seems to be against women teaching men; and also, amazingly, that it was fine for women to preach! what the distinction is between preaching and teaching was not explained. Secondly, I read where it said that the commandments of God are not grievous, and here was a man of God saying that what he said was a commandment of God did grieve him. So I didn’t believe what was said; I discovered good grounds for my belief in the Kroeger book.

More generally, although I grew up in a world where I was unaware of women having any particular problems and certainly not any caused by the Bible, one becomes aware of some of the real issues and that some of these might well be regarded as having a source in ‘religion’, more particularly Christian religion. This is despite, for example, something like de Tocqueville’s memorable account of the USA in the early 19th century, where he ascribes the welfare of the nation in large degree to the women, their well-developed characters and independence. This has to be a consequence of Christian faith but we can all too easily ascribe advances in society to Christianity without noticing that these advances were a long time coming! I suppose that there are plenty of people who would argue that repression of women has its source in the Bible, ridiculous though that seems to me. Having lived in Spanish America it is hard to ignore the phenomenon of machismo; in the western world we need to think about feminism and abortion; as soon as I start to think about this (which my personal gender positioning doesn’t predispose me to do!) there is clearly a whole world of issues that can arise. In saying that I grew up unaware of women having particular problems, my meaning is that there was no question of the all round ‘equality’ of women, but then we start to discover that women get beaten,  abused, mistreated….and we men don’t seem to care very much about the problems half the race may face by reason of their gender.

As to the books:

I suffer not the woman by Kroeger and Kroeger. This is a fairly scholarly book which examines 1 Timothy chapter 2, where Paul, according to the KJV, says ‘I suffer not the woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man’. This would seem plain enough, but the view that emerges is that this is a severe mistranslation. The authors examine the situation in Ephesus, where Timothy was based as a pastor, and conclude that there was a gnostic type cult in which the women predominated and held the role of priestesses; part of the belief was that Eve was the originator of man; this might be seen as a sort of proto-feminism. Paul is therefore writing with this view in mind. A more correct translation, and the authors go into the Greek in detail, would be something like this: ‘I don’t allow the women to teach that they have the pre-eminence over men or that woman is the originator of man; Adam was created first, then Eve’. To me, the argument is conclusive, but whoever you are, bearing in mind that this is the one and only text that can really be used to justify a ban on women teaching, and that the Bible requires anyway that there must be 2 or 3 witnesses, sufficient doubt is cast on the traditional meaning to make the doctrine unsustainable.

(I should add to this that I recently looked at a large book by Wayne Grudem which asserts what he sees as the traditional view; he uses two terms, ‘egalitarian’ and ‘feminist’ to describe, among others, the Kroeger view, which I don’t see as particularly fair. However, more importantly, he does quote in full 3 articles of a scholarly nature which cast serious doubt on the Kroeger book as scholarship. The ‘problem’ for me remains that if women teaching is wrong, then God would not bless it, but I believe that He does.)

God’s Word to Women by Katharine Bushnell is a substantial work first published in 1921. Bushnell was a woman of action, a medical doctor, social reformer, founder of a mission for homeless women in Chicago, fighter against prostitution in Wisconsin and then in India; and she was a scholar who studied the Greek and Hebrew to determine the biblical status of women, research which she then published in this book, which is subtitled One Hundred Bible Studies on Woman’s Place in the Church and Home. The book is therefore intensely biblical and strays very little outside this ambit except to establish historical backgrounds. It is a little hard to know what to say since it is so comprehensive, covering a huge range of scriptures and issues; closely argued and very convincing, it is so readable as to be hard to put down. The best thing I can do is to say it is a must read, but I should also record my abiding memory. This stems from the verse that says that ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife’; Bushnell’s point is that it is the man who leaves home and not the woman. She argues that this was always God’s intention – that a man move house to live with his bride’s family, thus providing protection for the woman and enhanced protection for children – but that this, the original plan, was soon lost. Right at the base of society, if this is correct, we have a radical failing, and I must say, this makes a lot of sense, particularly when you look at the worst perversions religion has wrought on mankind , where the exact opposite is practised.

The Woman Question by Kenneth Hagin. Hagin asks the following interesting question: how is it that Pentecostal churches, which regard themselves as the most tightly bound of all groups to strict adherence to the Bible, how come these are the churches that afford most liberty to women? Nowadays I suppose we would say ‘charismatic’ churches, though the idea of sticking closely to the Bible probably has less applicability. As is normal with Hagin’s books, they are very spiritual and breathe goodness; he covers some of the points that Bushnell does, from his own angle, and gives some guidelines for proprietous behaviour within the ministry setting, and also in the home. A particular issue he seems to have had to face is the idea that a woman has to obey her husband, a view  he demolishes!

Creation Realities by Daisy Osborn. The Osborns’ major international evangelistic ministry spanned at least 30 years before they focused for a period on a teaching ministry; an important element of this was a focus on the place of women in the Christian world. They had seen so many things over the years that TL felt he could say that he was shocked that ‘the world’ was ahead of ‘the church’ in certain respects when it came to what might be termed women’s ‘rights’; and that they were determined to correct this. Daisy Osborn wrote a set of 5 books all addressed to women – The Woman Believer etc.; on the whole the books apply equally to men, and it is rather shocking to be addressed as ‘you’ on the assumption that you are a woman; the boot, one feels, is rather on the other foot. In Creation Realities she carefully goes through the Genesis account which lies behind a lot of traditional male prejudice and oppression. She draws fairly heavily on Bushnell; like Bushnell, the presentation is extremely clear, marvellously so in fact. Her view of the freedom of Christian women includes a very negative view of ‘feminism’ as a movement which seeks to establish a freedom from men that excludes Christ. I found it very strong and passionate, but I am not sure my own gender qualifies me to say it gets at the heart of things, though I suspect it does.

(As a little footnote, I have been reading an author who was first advertised to me as feminist, whatever that means, in her case perhaps that she talks about women in the Bible. The two books by Phyllis Trible  are God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality  and Texts of Terror. These are wonderful explorations of biblical texts, with some of the best literary expositions you could hope to encounter; an example is a very powerful meditation/exegesis/literary criticism on Tamar and her rape by Amnon; shockingly powerful.)